The Buzz

Revealed: US Navy's New Littoral Combat Ship Is Getting a Big Missile Upgrade

The Navy plans to deploy two separate long-range over-the-horizon missile weapons aboard its Littoral Combat Ship later this year as part of an effort to better arm the vessel and give it an ability to attack longer-range land and ocean targets than it is currently configured to do, according to industry sources familiar with the ship's development. 

The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile will soon deploy with the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile will deploy on the Navy's trimaran "Independence" variant of the ship; the idea is to further assess each weapon in an operational setting as a way to better determine the ideal over-the-horizon weapon for the ship's future. 

At the same time, the Navy is also weighing the prospect of arming the LCS with the emerging Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile or a laser-guided Extended Range Griffin Missile. 

A formal competition among industry is expected at some point in the future, per Navy statements which indicate that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been make. 

In September 2015, Director of Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Peter Fanta directed the installation of a technologically mature, over-the-horizon capability across in-service littoral combat ships to support the Navy's distributed lethality concept. Priority was given to Coronado and Freedom as ships preparing to deploy in fiscal year 2016. 

Distributed Lethality:

The Navy's distributed lethality strategy involves numerous initiatives to better arm its fleet with offensive and defensive weapons, maintain a technological advantage over adversaries, such as the fast-growing Russian and Chinese navies, and strengthen its "blue water" combat abilities against potential near-peer rivals, among other things. 

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)

Arming the Littoral Combat Ship, and its more survivable and lethal variant, the Frigate, is designed to better equip the LCS for shallow and open water combat against a wider range of potential adversaries, such as enemy surface ships, drones, helicopters, small boats and maneuvering attack craft, at beyond-the-horizon ranges.

"The Navy is in the process of researching and defining requirements for a shipboard anti-ship missile.  Competition will absolutely factor into any acquisitions strategy to ensure that we fulfill the requirement at the best value to the government," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling told Scout Warrior in an interview. 

The LCS is already equipped with 30mm and 57mm guns to destroy closer-in enemy targets such as swarms of small boats and the Navy plans to deploy a maritime variant of the HELLFIRE Missile aboard the ship by next year to destroy approaching enemy targets from "within the horizon" 

The development of these LCS-launched over-the-horizon missiles entirely consistent with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.

Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increases its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against emerging high-tech adversaries.

Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed.  Having an ability to spread out and conduct disaggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire. 

Yingling said requirements for a ship-launched weapon of this kind were still being determined. 

Harpoon:

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado successfully executed the first live-fire over-the-horizon missile test using a Harpoon Block IC missile, July 19, during the Navy's Rim of the Pacific exercise.

RIMPAC is a biennial multinational exercise that provides a unique training opportunity that fosters sustained cooperative relationships critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans.

Navy officials told Scout Warrior that part of the rationale for the live-fire Harpoon exercise was to assess the ability of the LCS to withstand a deck-firing of the weapon. 

Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon weapon designed to execute anti-ship missions against a range of surface targets. It can be launched from surface ships, submarines and aircraft and is currently used on 50 U.S. Navy ships: 22 cruisers, 21 Flight I destroyers and seven Flight II destroyers, Navy statements said. 

The Boeing-built Harpoon reaches high subsonic speeds and is engineered to reach over-the-horizon ranges of 67 nautical miles, Navy information says. It has a 3-foot wingspan and weighs roughly 1,500 pounds. The air-launched weapon is 12-feet long and the ship and submarine launched Harpoon is 15-feet long; it uses Teledyne Turbojet solid propellant booster for surface and submarine launch, Navy information specifies. 

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